Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / Nichiren Buddhism and the Teaching of Karma

Nichiren Buddhism and the Teaching of Karma

Karma is the essence of one’s “history of actions”.  We make our “record of actions” through our behaviour, speech and thoughts. The motivations, which drive us to actions - reside in our subconscious mind, as powers influencing our thinking, speech and behaviour.  Actions are automatically recorded in the subconscious memory, called Karma, together with their impact or latent consequences.

Karma and the Psychology of the individual

Psychology is the study of behaviour and motivations that drive us to act.  Modern Psychology is in agreement with the concept of Karma, which explains the origin of our tendencies and the dynamism by which we attract from the environment certain patterns of events.  

Several academic studies were published with the focus on the common concepts in Jungian Psychology and Nichiren Buddhism.

Support for the concept of establishing karmic tendencies in the individual comes from Neuroscience. Neuroscience offers the explanation that each type of action we do is associated with a relevant “neuro-path”, and that frequently repeating certain action makes its neuropath more dominant.  Habits, tendencies and motivations reflect the essence of what we created in the past. The more we repeat a certain action, the deeper its essence becomes recorded through the working of the mind - almost exactly as the concept of karma also explains.

Correctly understood, Karma is the storehouse of the driving forces in our psychological domain, it is a mental energy, which drives us to patterns of behaviour and attracts from the surrounding environment events we encounter.  It is the mental power that influences our life and its future events. 

Karma is a work in progress

At each moment in time, we are adding a record of thoughts, speech or behaviour to our personal history of actions.  This means that Karma is a dynamic ‘work in progress’.  We constantly create and add new information to our record of actions.  The storehouse of information about our tendencies and actions is never static, as we are always driven by intentions and continuous thinking.  This means that Karma is not fixed. 

If we make some dedicated efforts towards a new quality of action - then we can change the orientation and direction of our intentions and create a shift towards a more positive and beneficial in consequences actions, forming thus a good account of Karma.

The Mechanism of Creating Karma:

As Mahatma Gandhi explained:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values, Your values become your future path or destiny.”

The mechanism through which karma is created follows the working of the Law of Cause and Effect.  This Law is described in the Lotus Sutra, and it teaches that any action we do has two kinds of results:

- a directly visible effect, and

- a latent effect, (future consequences of past action).

Through the working of the Law of Cause and Effect, the “latent effect” a judgement about its quality, and it is automatically added to the storehouse of Karma. It becomes a latent possibility for a future occurrence - a tendency to attract events of the same quality or essence of action. 

Repeated actions of a certain trend will create in our attitude a deeper tendency and a stronger attraction of the same nature of events or motivations (becoming the driving force influencing the future of our life).  As such, we become psychologically prone to certain patterns of events.

The mental energy of Karma becomes like an ‘inner magnet’ - attracting from the environment that matches and fits its nature, good or bad.  The important thing here is that karma is not fixed, but is constantly added-to at each moment by our continuous flow of actions.

Karma and Diversity of Newborns:  

“The circumstances into which we are born, as well as our faces and our shapes and sizes are infinitely varied.  This is clearly the result of accumulated karma each of us is born with. […]  If we pursue the question of where our karmic tendencies come from thoroughly, we realise its source cannot possibly be found in this life alone.  We have to acknowledge that life is eternal”.

D. Ikeda, New Human Revolution, Vol.3, Ch.1 Western Transmission 27.

Taking responsibility for one’s life

Because actions lead to creating karmic tendencies, Nichiren Buddhism regards karma as a beneficial mental power for creating the future. Setting a certain goal (for example : overcoming a certain weakness in one’s behaviour - such as emotionalism, impatience, immaturity, greed, egoism, etc…) and making a determination at the present moment to realise one’s goals - this would create a shift towards transforming our inclination.

In this perspective, the mechanism of creating karma becomes a powerful means by which we consciously reprogram our file of karmic tendencies  . Taking command of our intention at the present moment can open a path toward a desired future. 

Karma is not about dwelling into the past.

Nichiren Buddhism is concerned with transforming one’s karma into a positive energy of action, because the present moment is the decisive factor for creating beneficial conditions for our future.

Some schools of thought seem to be obsessed with theories of karma and past life, explaining whatever event or hardship one faces in life as a punishment for “bad karma”.  In Nichiren Buddhism, however, hardships are considered as fuel for gaining inner strength - and everything we encounter is regarded as an opportunity for winning over our own weaknesses.

While we are not responsible for other people’s actions towards us (their action is their own responsibility) - we are, however, responsible for our own reaction towards others.  Seeking a better way of reaction in daily life (which would ensure benefit of self-and-others), we need to take command and direct our actions - rather than letting our immature reactions or past habits and tendencies take the lead. 

Having the interest in improving the quality of our actions - in itself is a good karmic tendency.  The practice of chanting in Nichiren Buddhism is an action of using the power of the Law of Cause and Effect for transformation of our life into the highest state possible.  In this way we deliberately create a karma of seeking enlightenment, happiness and lifeforce.